Most site operators would be stoked with over 700,000 clicks per minute. Frankfurt-based skateshop Bonkers is not most operators. When Bonkers places exclusive, limited edition shoes on its online shop, the site is regularly overrun by bots, which have caused the site to crash in the past. Bonkers, however, is fighting back against resellers using bots by selling them digital images of the articles. The practice has not only curbed the bot prob, but has also increased overall revenue.
“They’re wankers who accept that my website is down for days, who accept that people who really want the shoe do not get it, while they just want to sell it to make some easy money,” says Martin Schreiber, co-founder of Bonkers, about resellers in a worthwhile interview with skate mag Solo.
Billion-dollar reselling industry
Resellers profit from the intentional shortages that are commonplace in the fashion and lifestyle sectors. The practice is called the drop (which we’ve reported on in the past) and is a practice pioneered by upscale streetwear brand Supreme. Drop marketing has proven to be such a powerful tool that nowadays numerous other fashion and lifestyle brands employ the tactic to drum up awareness and excitement for new products. “I don’t have an issue with drops per se,” Schreiber told OMR in a telephone interview. “It seems like everyone is using drops, but I get that people want personalized products. And for me as a site operator, it’s great when I can sellout a product in a single day.”
Schreiber’s main issue would then appear to lie with some of the tertiary aspects of drop mania; specifically, parts of the sub-economy that has surfaced around the “dropped” articles in the past couple of years. Mainly, the resell market. Here you have a sub-economy of specialized reselling platforms like Grailed and StockX (the latter of which is valued at USD 1 billion) populated by people who employ bot software made by third-party providers to purchase limited articles with the sole aim of reselling them at a massive profit. And it’s the widespread use of this bot software that causes sites to crash as they enable an influx of order attempts every second. One Canadian teen developed the only Supreme bot app sold it last year for nearly a quarter of a million US.
“The system loses track of inventory”
The influx of traffic from drops kept causing the Bonkers’ shop to crash. ” We somehow had 700.000 clicks per minute on our website. What kind of server can deal with that?” Schreiber told Solo. “We are a small shop and do not have the means to set up an entire server farm.” He says that people who use bots do not care about what happens to the shop. “They don’t browse around on our website and order something they discovered in our shop. They only show up for very specific items.”
He went on to say that the elevated traffic numbers would routinely create a situation where more products were sold than were actually on hand, sometimes as much as twice that of the actual inventory. “When 50.000 bots order a shoe at the same time, the system loses track of the stock. Then you have to transfer back the money and people are pissed off. And actually you can’t help it,” says Schreiber.
Selling exclusively over the phone didn’t help
At some point, he and the team decided to use the website to communicate upcoming drops, splurge on an old cell phone and only accept orders via telephone or straight through the brick and mortar shop.” The problem was, even if we didn’t have the shoe online, the bots still came, the server was down for three days and we couldn’t use our website.” Something else had to be done.
“So we decided to also show the middle finger and sell digital pictures of the shoes,” says Schreiber. The Bonkers team tested the new tactic with Nike SB sneakers and uploaded 3000 images per shoe size to the shop and listed them with the title “Picture of shoe XY.” The product description specifically stated that the product was not the shoes but seven images of the shoes sold for 10 euros each. “But of course a bot does not recognize this. It simply searches for the product name and then thinks: “Buy, buy, buy!” says Schreiber.
Enough is enough
Most recently, users were required to check a box at the end of the checkout process to confirm that they are aware that they are purchasing a digital product and have no claim to return the product in question—a stipulation that is commonplace, and legal, for digital purchases.
The result: Bonkers made more revenue by selling those pictures than they did selling shoes. One bot-wielding user bought 7K worth of image files. “We had one who kept placing orders ever 15 seconds. So, I called him up and asked him if he saw what was going on. And no, he didn’t have a clue,” says Schreiber. “We didn’t fool anyone. Anyone could have informed themselves.” Nevertheless, Bonkers gave customers who were friendly or acting in good faith a 70-euro voucher.
The bots keep coming
Schreiber declined to say just how much they made selling image files. If we assume that each shoe was available in 10 sizes and all 3000 of the “products” were sold, then the revenue could potentially be in the 7-figure range. But that is pure speculation. “We made more than we anticipated,” Schreiber told OMR. “It’s a nice additional source of income, but I would actually prefer it when no one bought any images so that I could just run my website without any problems and without spending my weekends telling people on Instagram when we’re back online.”
Bonkers, Schreiber says, has employed the “picture practice” on a total of three different shoes. “Whether or not we sell pictures of the shoes simply depends on how many shoes we receive,” says Schreiber. He says that he has yet to see bots or bot users adjust. “The amount of picture purchasers has not gotten smaller. On the contrary. On really popular shoes, there are more than there were previously. Just new bot buyers trying to raid the shop.”
Positive Feedback from Nike HQ
Schreiber says that he would like to reinvest the income generated from picture purchases in the skate scene. “We can make new shop clothes from the money or push events here in Frankfurt more. Maybe we can give our team riders a little more.” The resonance from the skate scene has been primarily positive. “After the SOLO interview was published, I even got some positive feedback from NIKE HQ in Portland. Beforehand, we actually had no direct contact with one another,” Schreiber told OMR.
Schreiber hopes that other merchants will take inspiration from Bonkers. “I think a lot of shops would be happy with the results if they employed the practice,” says Schreiber. ” Then maybe all the bot-fucktards will learn that they have to find other ways.”